VEGETARIAN • by Wilma Bernard

I always felt stupid around Ron, but for a long time I didn’t know it was stupid. I thought it was love.

When Ron and I met we were both eighteen and freshmen. The meeting was the first mistake, I think, and in this I feel like the innocent party. I did not try to meet Ron. My roommate Diane introduced us. She knew Ron because they were both super-vegetarians, the non-dairy, no eggs variety. Diane introduced me to Ron because she thought we would really hit it off, both being art majors, and boy was she right. I started feeling stupid right away.

The thing about Ron was, he was charming. He was smart, and cool, and handsome, and he always brought me flowers. He always told me he loved me. I believed him, I don’t know why; maybe I convinced myself with sheer wishing. I needed him to love me. Just one time, I wanted the fairy tale. But see, the thing about me was, I was never as good as Ron was. I was never as smart, or as cool, or as good-looking. I wasn’t as kind, or patient. I gossiped, and I messed things up all the time, and I hated the girls he had class with, the girls who made him laugh, the girls who stopped by our table in the lunch room to talk homework and to flirt. He never messed up, not in a way that he would acknowledge or anyone else could see. He flirted back, oh, you bet he did. But it was never anything concrete, never anything I could pin on him. Instead he corrected me, always gently. And for the longest time, I bought it. He had eyes that could reach down into me and make my insides seize up. His eyes made it hard to breathe, sometimes, but then he’d look away and I’d know that breathing really wasn’t all that important. What was important was those eyes telling me that they loved me–even if they also told me I was mean and stupid and petty. I needed them to love me, even if they made me hate myself. His eyes made me a vegetarian, made me eat tofu and veggie burgers and pretend I enjoyed them. His eyes made me study harder, and they squelched my uncool sense of humor, and they adjusted my taste in music and clothes and friends. And if I rebelled by one percent, they looked disappointed. If I called one girl a dirty name when she couldn’t even hear me anyway, they told me I was overreacting. I had to get my shit together, if I wanted to keep those eyes on me.

I finally realized that somehow I never changed enough. I kept that one friend from home who liked my corny jokes, and I held on to that favorite ratty old sweater, and I secretly wrote bad poetry instead of revising my papers thoroughly. I gave up meat, but I kept drinking milk because I worried about bone mass and I really didn’t care that much about the cows. I couldn’t be as altruistic as Ron was, I never could.

I fantasized about the fights I wanted to get in, the blood of those slutty girls of his running over my hands, although of course even a hint of that made him go all fatherly and serious. And every time I tried to call him on something in turn, every single time he would call me hysterical, or moody, or jealous.

Well, I wasn’t hysterical in the end. I was calm, and I was clear, and I didn’t cry when I broke up with him. It was on a quiet and empty path in the woods just off campus, a scenic spot right next to a stream. I told him I couldn’t be with him, and he looked at me. And he said, “All right.” And he walked away. It was what I wanted, and I knew it was best, but I just couldn’t bear it. Because I knew that he’d been just waiting for this. That soon those eyes would stop another girl’s breath, and tell her they loved her.

I couldn’t let that be — I couldn’t let him forget me.

So I said, “One last kiss?”

And he came back to me, and kissed me. And I took my knife from my pocket. I had the knife for art, but I guess I brought it because maybe I really knew what would happen. It was supposed to cut cardboard, but it cut his throat okay, too.

You know, he’s the one who overreacted to that little moment.

It was a clean, dry day, and I burned Ron with some dry leaves and dead wood, and I bathed in a nearby stream. And nobody noticed the smoke enough to figure it was their problem. And no one saw me go back into my dorm room and change my clothes. Then I went out and ate three hamburgers. I threw them up later, but it was completely worth it.

And nobody knows.

And I don’t sleepwalk, like Lady MacBeth, always scrubbing the blood off my hands. I don’t remember the blood so much.

What I dream of is his eyes.

Wilma Bernard is not good at keeping secrets.

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